Hapshash and the Coloured Coat
Originally a graphic design duo in late 1960s England who recorded an amazing improvised group jam session in 1967.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Hapshash and the Coloured Coat was originally a graphic design duo in late 1960s England who drew a series of highly regarded psychedelic concert posters for such rock luminaries as Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and the Incredible String Band. These busybodies also recorded an amazing improvised group jam session in 1967 called Featuring the Human Host and the Heavy Metal Kids. (Note: The title refers to a line from a 1961 William Burroughs novel called The Soft Machine, not "heavy metal" music, which wasn't called such until at least 1968.)

The title of--and music within--each cut on this album is so beautiful, no wonder it's among my favorite rock albums from the 1960s! "H-O-P-P-Why?" starts it all off with a super deep, overdriven bass line that totally crushes, joining the drumbeat to form a simple, stomping rhythm. Electric guitar, harmonica and loosely tinkling percussion get sprinkled all over the top like the most delicious aural cupcake you've ever savored. A similar vibe continues on the next two tracks, "A Mind Blown is a Mind Shown," in which bongos lead the way through a multi-layered pastoral rock heaven complete with a humming harmoica and church bells, and "The New Messiah Coming 1985," which adds buried chorus vocals, a plethora of talking and chattering, and jingly percussion--all supported by some steady acoustic guitar strum.

The perfect break from the beat arrives in the form of "Aoum," a seriously meditative atmosphere full of lovely, minimal group chanting accented with a little bit of percussion tinkle. "Empires of the Sun" draws the album to a close with one of the first--if not the first--side-long tracks in rock LP history. A sprightly bass riff initiates the shockingly sudden start and joins the drumbeat to form a foundation for the whole track, as layers of voices, instruments and sound effects gradually join in to create a veritable musical melee. Jangling guitars and sitars, a tweeting recorder, myriad voices talking, deep gong hits and a growling, howling girl that, at times, sounds like she's giving live birth to a sperm whale, join in festivities.

Timeframe: Pre-Altamont.

Public Impact: Since Hapshash and the Coloured Coat never played any live shows or toured, their music, which included a second, somewhat more straighforward folk blues covers album called Western Flyer, was quickly relegated to the brackish backwaters of psych collector circles, where it has nonetheless gained a steadily growing audience over the years. And their posters, of course, now change hands for exorbitant sums.

More: Forced Exposure, Last.FM, Wikipedia, Who Collection